Louise Fletcher, who played villainous Nurse Ratched in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ dies at 88

Louise Fletcher, who won a best actress Oscar for her role as Jack Nicholson's cruel screen nemesis Nurse Ratched in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest," has died. She was 88.

Fletcher died in her sleep surrounded by family at her home in Montdurausse, France, on Friday her agent David Shaul tells USA TODAY. No cause of death was given.

The classic 1975 film "Cuckoo's Nest" followed the patients and staff of an Oregon psychiatric hospital. The Milos Foreman-directed film won five Oscars in 1976, including best actress, best picture and best director. Jack Nicholson won the best actor Oscar for his indelible performance as patient Randle P. McMurphy, who flouts the tyrannical rule of Nurse Ratched in the ward.

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Louise Fletcher holds the Academy Award she won for her leading role in "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" in Los Angeles, March 30, 1976.
Louise Fletcher holds the Academy Award she won for her leading role in "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" in Los Angeles, March 30, 1976.

Fletcher's role became regarded as one of film history’s greatest villains, No. 5 all-time list compiled by the American Film Institute, behind Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, Darth Vader, and the Wicked Witch of the West.

Born in Alabama to deaf parents — Fletcher made one of the most touching acceptance speeches in Oscar history after her win.

Clutching her Oscar at the 1976 ceremony, Fletcher told the audience, smiling, "It looks as though you all hated me so much. But you have given me this award for it. And I'm loving every minute of it. All I can say is, I've loved being hated by you."

She then tearfully addressed her deaf parents in Birmingham, Alabama, talking and using sign language: "I want to thank you for teaching me to have a dream. You are seeing my dream come true."

A moment of silence was followed by thunderous applause.

After putting her career on hold for years to raise her children, Fletcher was in her early 40s and little known when chosen for the "Cuckoo's Nest" role by Foreman, who had admired her work the year before in director Robert Altman’s "Thieves Like Us." At the time, she didn’t know that many other prominent stars, including Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn and Angela Lansbury, had turned it down.

“I was the last person cast,” she recalled in a 2004 Associated Press interview. “It wasn’t until we were halfway through shooting that I realized the part had been offered to other actresses who didn’t want to appear so horrible on the screen."

The character was so memorable she would become the basis for a Ryan Murphy Netflix series, "Ratched," 45 years later, starring Sarah Paulson as Nurse Mildred Ratched.

Fletcher also starred as a soft-spoken psychiatrist in "Exorcist II: The Heretic" (1977). Star Linda Blair paid tribute to her co-star on Twitter.

"Louise was always a sweetheart," wrote Blair. "Working with her on the 'Exorcist II' was one of the highlights along with Richard Burton. She paved a beautiful golden road of hard work and accolades. God bless you my sweet friend."

On TV, Fletcher portrayed cunning and ambitious religious leader Kai Winn Adami who frequently fought with Captain Sisko and his crew on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" throughout the show's seven-season run.

"Her contributions to the Star Trek universe will never be forgotten," the official "Star Trek" Twitter page tweeted Friday.

She played the controlling mother of the famed title character in the 1989 biopic "The Karen Carpenter Story." In 1996, Fletcher was nominated for an Emmy Award for a guest appearance on "Picket Fences," playing the mother of Mayor Laurie Bey (Marlee Matlin).

Matlin paid tribute to the "brilliant actress" on Twitter.

Fletcher more recently played William H. Macy’s meth-dealing, foul-mouthed mother on Showtime's "Shameless," appeared in the Liev Schreiber film "A Perfect Man" (2013) and on two episodes of Netflix series "Girlboss." starring Britt Robertson.

Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Louise Fletcher dies: Nurse Ratched in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'